USSSA Pride Take Game 1 Of NPF Championship Series
ROSEMONT, Ill. – Ahead of the 2019 NPF Championship Series, the USSSA Pride appeared to be the underdogs against the regular-season champion Chicago Bandits. Though the Pride are the NPF's reigning–Cowles Cup champions, they lost six of their last eight games of the regular season, as well as their last four contests against Chicago, heading into Game 1 of the best-of-five series.
But none of that mattered when the two teams took the field on Thursday at Parkway Bank Sports Complex. The Pride sent 2019 NPF Pitcher of the Year Jolene Henderson to the mound to face off against Chicago's Rachele Fico, the league leader in wins.
After both teams threatened early on, the Pride broke through against Fico in the top of the third when Allexis Bennett led off the inning with a single. A Shelby Pendley hustle play later in the frame allowed Bennett to score the first run of the game to give USSSA a 1–0 lead.
The Bandits threatened in the bottom of the third when they loaded the bases, but Henderson escaped the jam to keep the home team off the board.
The scoring stalled until the top of the sixth when Kelly Kretschman hit a two-out double that sparked the Pride offense. Kretschman's hit led to a Bandits pitching change that brought Danielle O'Toole into the circle for Chicago and pinch hitter Shay Knighten up to the plate for USSSA.
A single up the middle off the bat of Knighten ensued and scored pinch runner Keeli Milligan from second base to extend USSSA's lead to 2–0. The Pride then got their second straight pinch-hit single of the inning, this time from Bianka Bell, which scored pinch runner Megan Good and gave USSSA a 3–0 advantage.
That proved to be all the insurance USSSA would need, as reliever Jailyn Ford finished the job for her team after entering the game for Henderson in the fourth inning. Ford earned the win in the contest, as she pitched its final four innings and kept the Bandits hitless in her appearance, while Fico took the loss.
The 2019 NPF Championship Series will continue on Friday with Game 2 of the set, which will begin at 8 p.m. ET.